Community Members Supply Food for Monmouth and Winthrop Students in Need During Pandemic

Abbie Hunt Contributing Writer

    Since the closing of all schools due to COVID-19 members of the Monmouth community have been stepping up to provide food for the RSU 2 school district students in Monmouth and Winthrop, Maine.

    Norm Thombs, director of Camp Mechuwana, a United Methodist Camp in Winthrop, jumped on the opportunity to help feed students in the community. Thombs is also one of the Monmouth Academy track coaches, and he and two other Monmouth track coaches, Tom Menendez, and Molly Menice helped pass out student meals.

    Together, Monday through Saturday they stand outside the Town Office in Monmouth for an hour and a half, giving breakfast and lunch to anyone in need. In addition to passing out food, the three have also been traveling to Winthrop to pass out meals to Winthrop students on Mondays and Wednesdays.

    Many students are desperate and in need of meals during this time. In one day alone they had given out 462 meals. Thombs’s plan is to continue giving out student meals as long as necessary.

    When the schools closed, RSU 2 superintendent announced that food would not be provided for kids. When Thombs heard this, he wanted to create a pandemic feeding center at Camp Mechuwana to help the community. Within two days the camp was set up to be a food distribution center. In the beginning local schools helped Thombs, Menendez and Menice, “The first week some of the school workers from RSU 2 helped out in the kitchen,” he said. However, as the closings continued, the schools were no longer able to help, leaving the three to operate alone. The Winthrop school system had also begun struggling to find help, and asked if Camp Mechuwana would be able to provide food for their students.

    Before lunchtime every day, both Thombs and Menendez travel to the camp to prepare and pick up food. A few students who had graduated from Monmouth Academy work in the camp kitchen to help prepare the meals. “[They] make all the meals and Tom and I back in the vans and load meals into them.” he said. Yet, Thombs wants as few people as possible in the kitchen due to the virus. 

    After passing out meals the group travels back to Monmouth to begin passing out meals at the town office. Whatever leftover food they have, which is normally not much, they take back to the camp and put in a cooler.

    The food to make the meals is being supplied by companies such as NorthCenter Food Company and Dennis Food and Supply. These companies supply restaurants and cafeterias. People from the community have been generously donating paper bags, sandwich bags, and food containers. “People have been sending us donations because not all our costs are covered,” Thombs said. “People have been really great.”

    Standing outside every day, often in the cold and rain, can be difficult, but Menendez said he is happy to help. “It puts a smile on their face,” he said. “At least the kids get a lunch and a breakfast.” The meals are helping meet the needs of people in the community.  

    Thombs, Menendez and Menice are experiencing added benefits as well. They are able to say hello to students, and meet new people in the community. “Some kids are so polite and so helpful when they come by with their parents,” Menendez said. “It makes you feel good.” One child who routinely goes to get lunch surprised him “There’s this one little kid who came down over the hill and asked if he could make me a picture,” Menendez said. “He came back about twenty minutes later with a picture”, Menendez now keeps the picture on his fridge.

    The food provided is mainly for students who are unable to have breakfast and lunch because of school closures, yet they will not deny anyone from the community who needs a meal. “We’ll give them an extra meal if we know the family is in need,” Menendez said. There are elderly people who may be in need, or college students who have come home from school and may not be able to afford food. “If they need it, we’ll give it to them,” Menendez said.